Delivery services and online grocery shopping in Singapore


I do our weekly grocery shopping every Friday night. Since we have two kids, I am going alone and Lamia and Aggie take care of the kids’ night time routine. Doing the grocery shopping alone is manageable for one person. It is one of the few times where I think a car would come in handy, however. I normally take the 10 minute walk to the supermarket (or in some cases take the bus), then pack all the items on a single trolley (often packing it close to a point where it soon must collapse) and then sort all groceries into chilled / fresh and non-perishables at check-out.

I then take the non-perishables to the customer service where I book a delivery (typically the next day) and then call a cab so I can carry home the chilled / fresh food in cooling bags. Don’t get me wrong: this works fine, even though carrying the chilled items, which typically comprise the heavier share of what we shop, is really quite an effort.

We are doing this now for years and we rarely had reason to complain. In the past three weeks, however, we had some annoying experiences with the delivery service. They had already missed the delivery time slot by up to an hour in the past, which is not really that a big deal. One week the delivery guy called and claimed the car had broken down and they were more delayed than usual. Okay, can happen. This is not too bad when it happens on a Saturday (as it did), because Aggie is home to accept the delivery… on a Sunday however this would literally mean we have to stay home until the delivery guy shows up (so we cannot go out as a family).

But then the week after I got again a call:

Delivery guy: Regarding your delivery – my driver got hospitalized.
Leo: Uh-oh!
Delivery guy: Can we deliver tomorrow?
Leo: Sorry, but no. It’s okay if you come later today, but tomorrow is too late. We need the items we bought today.
Delivery guy: Yes, but my driver got hospitalized…
Leo: I understand, but can’t you use another driver?!

Look, I don’t want to be a jerk here and I hope the driver is fine and nothing bad happened to him. But if you are running a delivery service, wouldn’t you be prepared for situations like this? We do rely on the groceries being delivered on a certain day. This is the reason why we shop where we shop (not all places offer delivery). If there is some hardship, I’m okay with delays, but definitely not by 24 hours.

The delivery guy on the phone was not happy and it added to the drama that it was raining cats and dogs when he delivered our groceries and he was standing in front of our place wet to the bones, not saying a word and his eyes shooting daggers at me.

And yes: I am sorry if this was an inconvenience for him. Maybe shit hit the fan and the whole service broke down that very day and he made an extra effort (which, by the way, might be a good thing to mention to your customer). But I am just asking for the service we agreed upon, and in theory should not even have to feel sorry at all. It added some extra juiciness to the situation that he unfortunately forgot a bag with toilet paper which I only noticed when he was gone. I called the shop and experienced another example of clueless customer service when I told them what was missing. It took three calls and two days for them to figure this out.

Customer service: So, can you come down and pick up the toilet paper?
Leo: No – it was supposed to be delivered, so please bring it to my house.

Tuesday night last week, around 9 pm, somebody came to our place, shoved the toilet paper into Lamia’s hands and stormed out. Okay then, I get it. There is enough indication that the delivery service is overstrained. And yet: what I would still expect is the person saying something like: “Hey, here’s your item, sorry we missed it”.

And do I say this because I am an just the biggest ass on the planet and have no care for the troubles of others? No! I say this because this is good customer service. You get what you pay for and I think it is reasonable to assume that the guys who run the delivery service won’t make it big. Consequently, what’s really behind this, though, is that if a small thing like one driver not being available and one missed bag already cause such a stress for them, I have to assume they’ll fold anytime soon. I certainly don’t want that. And one reason is that the alternatives are no better.

One alternative is obviously that I’d lug this huge pile of groceries into the taxi and then, once home, together with Aggie into the elevator. This is incovenient, but manageable and of course brings some independence. But it’s rough.

The other alternative is using Redmart, an online grocery store which on the outside seems to be a pretty good option. They deliver non-perishables and fresh goods alike and the prices are in a still acceptable range, too. 

The problem is: they are also not reliable. It’s not so much that they often don’t meet the delivery time slots either. The issue is that even though they might list the item you want to buy, more often than not it is out of stock. Coke Light “out of stock”? – you got to be kidding me (true story)! And even if it is available, they handle issues also in a funny way. Just last weekend we had ordered 6 big carton packs of chilled juice (which made me happy, because it meant I did not have to carry those ~10 kg home from my grocery shopping). When the delivery guy came, he said he did not have them. “Something” got damaged and this is why he could not bring any of them. And then he showed Lamia the photo of one of their red delivery crates. Not damaged. Closed lid. I am not sure what this was supposed to tell us, but maybe he meant that the cooling was broken and the products might have been spoiled?

Whatever it was, here’s what I would expect:

Delivery guy: Hey, sorry I could not bring the juice. The cooling of the crate got damaged.
Lamia: Oh, that’s too bad…
Delivery guy: No worries, the shop already knows and we’ll deliver a replacement later today.

What did happen was:

Delivery guy: Hey, sorry I could not bring the juice. Look at this meaningless photo of a red crate.
Lamia: Oooo-kay… so what do we do about it?
Delivery guy: I don’t know. You have to call the shop.

Lamia called the shop and they refunded the money, gave her a 5 Dollar voucher and that was it. You could argue that’s not too bad. I think, however, it is another example of poor customer service. They could have at least asked whether they should send the juice next day or so (which to be fair would have been too late, because we had a brunch planned). 

The point of this rant is that the service landscape in Singapore, especially when it comes to online services, is ready for disruption. I am not sure it will ever happen, because you cannot scale a lot in a country with a population of 6 million, of course, and the meat pots are controlled by a few companies.

So yes: whether it happens or not and if I like it or not, it is what it is. I guess it will remain a source of irritation for quite a while.

And I am not going to buy a car.

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